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What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency - On The Endocannabinoid System

What is Endocannabinoid Deficiency - On The Endocannabinoid System

By EvolutionCBD   |   May 19, 2020

Cannabinoids aren’t only found inside the cannabis plant.  They’re also naturally produced by our bodies. 

These self-made cannabinoids are a byproduct of the endocannabinoid system, a complex network first identified by researchers in the 1990s. This cell-signaling biological system is still being studied, and there’s much that remains unknown to us. 

One thing scientists are still trying to figure out is just how a deficiency in levels of endocannabinoids could cause other common illnesses we experience.

Endocannabinoid deficiency is a theory that ties such common health conditions to deficiency of the endocannabinoid system.  In this article, we’ll get you up to speed on the endocannabinoid system, the theory of endocannabinoid deficiency, and just how cannabinoids from cannabis interact with our homemade version. 

Keep reading to connect the dots between this complex bodily system and its origins from cannabis.

Endocannabinoid System: The Basics

Have you ever wondered what, in the body, allows us to feel the effects of cannabis?  It’s our endocannabinoid system (ECS).  It does a whole lot more than that, too. 

The ECS was first identified in the early ’90s, while researchers were studying tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).  The system is primarily made up of receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes and is thought to support and regulate many different functions of the human body.  Some of these functions include:

  • Sleep
  • Memory
  • Appetite
  • Mood
  • Reproduction
  • Sensation of pain

To this day, there’s still a lot to be discovered about this system and just how big its role is in our health. 

There is quite a bit we do know about, though.  That includes how the system works, what it’s main functions in the body are, and the parts played by three key components.

How the Endocannabinoid System Works

To understand how the ECS works for us, it’s helpful to have some background on the concept of biological homeostasis.  You can think of it within the parameters of Goldilocks: the ideal outcome is not the one that’s too big or too small, too cold, or too hot.  It’s the one somewhere in the middle. 

Homeostasis is the biological concept that our bodily systems are constantly working together to regulate conditions within a narrow, acceptable range.  For example, homeostasis in temperature is usually somewhere near 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit.  Blood sugar levels shouldn’t be too low or too high.

For our bodies to be working optimally, they need to find consistency in that sweet Goldilocks zone of homeostasis.  Our ECS plays a vital role in this maintenance, constantly working to regulate our bodies and keep us feeling and functioning the best.   Read more about how endocannabinoids work on our blog.

Key Components of the Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid system consists of three key components that each play an important role.  The cannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes each individually bring something to the table while working together to support overall regulation. 

  • Cannabinoids - tiny molecules that activate special cannabinoid receptors
  • Receptors - lie on the surface of cells
  • Enzymes - break down the endocannabinoids after use


Endocannabinoid System Diagram 


These are small molecules that seek out, bind to, and activate cannabinoid receptors.  The two main cannabinoids found in the human body are 2-AG and anandamide.  Made from fat-like molecules within the membrane of cells, these endocannabinoids are created as they’re needed.  This is different from many other biological molecules, which are synthesized and stored for later use.


We have all kinds of receptors in our bodies. Cannabinoid receptors lie on the surface of cell walls and take note of what’s happening outside, sending messages to the inner cell as it learns new information.  From there, the cell can begin to respond to the conditions appropriately. 

The two main cannabinoid receptors are called CB1 and CB2.  They’re not the only ones, but they were the first ones found and the most researched.  CB1 receptors are found primarily in the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found in the peripheral nervous system, including the immune system. 


The third key aspect of the endocannabinoid system involves metabolic enzymes.  Enzymes quickly and effectively break down endocannabinoids after they’ve been used.  These enzymes limit the window in which an endocannabinoid can be used, ensuring they’re only there as long as they need to be. 

The main two metabolic enzymes are MAGL and FAAH. MAFL works to break down the 2-AG cannabinoids while FAAH takes care of anandamide.  

Endocannabinoid System Functions

These three main components of the ECS are found within nearly all of the major biological systems.  Whenever a system knocks something out of its ideal “Goldilocks Zone” of homeostasis, the ECS triad comes together to bring things back to normal. 

Research from the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry (IBC) found that the ECS continues to work this way whenever it gets the chemical signal that it is needed to resolve a physiological situation somewhere in the body. 

As you can see, the ECS can serve many functions in the body.  Medical experts haven’t quite nailed down all of the processes the ECS supports, but current research supports its impact upon a variety of conditions.

How Plant Cannabinoids Interact with the ECS

A big part of the reason we, as humans, respond to plant cannabinoids like CBD and THC, the way we do involves the presence of our very own endocannabinoid systems.  Since we have receptors that can interact with the plant cannabinoids, we can also respond to them.

THC and CBD interact with our ECS in different ways.  First off, THC gives users a psychoactive effect because it activates CB1 receptors in our brains. Remember those ECS enzymes?  They don’t work as quickly on plant cannabinoids as they do on endocannabinoids, so the THC response lingers around for a while until it’s finally broken down. 

The CBD oils are unique in that it affects overall levels of brain endocannabinoids rather than just individual receptors.  By inhibiting the FAAH enzyme (the one that breaks down anandamide, the “bliss” molecule) in the brain, CBD can increase overall levels of anandamide. 

How to Improve ECS Function

While there’s no single solution to the perfect endocannabinoid system, research supports several different methods that can be used to improve its functioning over time. 

Most of the recommendations come down to self-care – and not the kind that means a bubble bath and a face mask.  One study, conducted in part by the IBC, suggests the following lifestyle modifications to enhance the endocannabinoid system:

  • Exercise
  • Maintaining body weight
  • Supplementing dietary nutrients
  • Reducing stress
  • Massage
  • Acupuncture

Additionally, other recommendations, include:

  • Focus on gut health: regulating levels of bacteria within the gut has shown to impact the ECS.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Be mindful of genetics: by being aware of your family’s genetic tendencies, you can reduce unhealthy habits to limit your own risk.
  • Sleep well: as mentioned, the ECS thrives on homeostasis.  Proper sleep is a crucial way to manage stress in the body and keep things within the Goldilocks zone. 


ECS researchers continue studying the three main components of the ECS (enzymes, cannabinoids, and receptors) in hopes that they will uncover its true role in regulating the body’s systems.  They also see the potential to improve ECS functioning through lifestyle changes and cannabinoid treatment, though more testing will need to be done.